Juvenile justice law does not absolve minors of crimes
Ramon Tulfo’s September 22 column was based on sensationalist assumptions. Tulfo said, “[t]here is an urgent need to amend that stupid law that exempts young criminals from punishment even if they have committed heinous crimes.”
To clarify: Nowhere in Republic Act 9344 (Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act) does it say that minor offenders shall be “exempt… from punishment,” especially if they have committed heinous crimes. It clearly states: “The exemption from criminal liability herein established does not include exemption from civil liability, which shall be enforced in accordance with existing laws.” RA 9344 mandates age-appropriate measures for handling youth offenders, knowing that putting children in the same jail as hardened criminals, where they will be vulnerable to abuse, will be to victimize them for the rest of their lives and eliminate all hope of reforming children in conflict with the law.
The case that Tulfo cited involved three minors “who beat up a 21-year-old” and are now “out scot-free.” In this case, it is not the law that is at fault, but the law enforcers. The law states that if the youth offenders are above 15 years old and had acted with discernment, they should be held liable for their acts. In heinous crimes, minors should be subject to involuntary confinement if this is deemed proper. That is the law. On the other hand, if they are below 15 years old, they are subject to intervention programs as provided by law. There are also cases where civil damages may be claimed by the victim’s family.
Tulfo argued: “In this age of television and the Internet, or the information highway, a 14-year-old kid’s maturity is equivalent to that of a person 20 years of age before the advent of multimedia outlets.” Following this logic, should children then be allowed to cast their votes during elections? Or should we entrust them key institutions of society, such as government offices, or media? May we remind everyone that mere access to information does not equal discernment, wisdom or maturity.
Before anyone blames Senator Francis Pangilinan or any of our legislators for the passing of this law which has been hailed worldwide as progressive and a landmark piece of legislation, may we remind them that for four years under the Arroyo administration, the law was not given the funds for its proper implementation. The Juvenile Justice Welfare Council was not empowered to carry out its mandate, and our law enforcers and prosecutors have not been properly educated on the intricacies of the law.
But in local governments where there have been political will and stakeholder support, the law has succeeded, and it has changed the lives of many youth offenders—many of whom would now be languishing in jail, without any hope of reform. We therefore appeal to our critics: read, understand and know the law; and push for appropriate government funding to make sure the law works to its fullest extent, for the sake of our children and our society.
—RENAN DALISAY, chief of staff, Office of Senator Francis Pangilinan
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